It was an accident of genetics. Given the derisory material her father contributed to the spongy, microscopic matter awaiting invasion inside her mother, the resulting child should have looked sullen and bland, like a thin, walking hangover. Her sisters did. But something from the past spoke up. The genes of some Texas desperado or pretty saloon whore with a good chin and cheekbones must have grappled to find a place on her double helix. Her good looks were, at first, dark and ambivalent and floated slowly to her surface like a dead body in turgid water. But, by the time she was three, everyone recognized the fact that she would be pretty. Damn, Mary-Ann. This one’s gonna be a heartbreaker. You done good by her. Just hope it holds past fifteen.
The extended family had had a number of pretty children, but by the time they had passed adolescence, by the time they were no longer a jail sentence waiting to be pronounced on a local man seeking good times behind the neighborhood bar, these same children looked used up. They entered their twenties with appearances that had become somehow diluted, watered down by other, less auspicious genetic elements or by the grotesque expansion of a feature that might have done better to cease growing sooner. On some women, the jaws and chins appeared to become most prominent. And, as they aged and as teeth were inevitably lost, they grew to resemble the members of a coven. The local men often mockingly shouted at them, as they carried bags out of the grocery, “How you gonna get all that home on your broom?” Some branches of the family tree, which did not extend all that far from the main trunk—because Mexica was, after all, a very small town—beat this problem by becoming positively elephantine. A jaw looks less protuberant when anchored by a waddle.
But she did keep her looks past fifteen, and they seemed to grow more solid, ever more defined with each year. No matter how often she saturated her body with discount liquor, no matter how much white powder she snorted or cigarettes she smoked, she never blemished her opulent features, which rapt and parched the watery eyes of every middle-aged man who came through the door of Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken, or who saw her dance topless at Club Wild Side in the evenings. They would blink and stare, blink and stare, their manhoods poking gently forward in their drawers trying to have a look, too. Well, aren’t you awful purty. What’s your name, honey?
All the while she was pregnant with the knowledge of her own magnetism, was made reckless by it. And she woke up each morning, annoyed by having to work, but buoyed up by the thought that she had something, something that mattered, something other people wanted. That was almost as good as money, wasn’t it? She didn’t consider that she might squander it. God, there was so much time, endless, unbearable amounts of time in front of her.
She ran with the metal crowd and learned the art of cut-rate coquettishness. Much of her spare time was spent traveling in the backseats of cars crowded with boys, on their laps, their hands up her skirt. And she usually satisfied their self conscious or–more often than not–arrogant demands because it was something to do, and because she found them somewhat pathetic. Never because she was fond of them or because she took any great pleasure in the trifling sexual experiences they offered. Generally speaking, she felt nothing, and she would shuck them off like an old shoe once they were finished. They were always such a miserable disappointment. She would inform them that they’d just been with the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe and announce that they should be grateful because someday she would be just as famous. Maybe even more so. And then, she would smoke their cigarettes and swill from the pony bottles of booze they concealed in the breast pockets of their jeans jackets. She was accumulating miles on her clock, and she liked to review this in the aftermath.
Later, with the old man, there was a modest amount of tactical proximity. It had more purpose and meaning than any of her more openly sexual encounters with boys from school. Sometimes, she would sit recklessly on his wheelchair as he was perched in it, bird-like and brittle-boned. She would tickle his bald head, twirl the little white strands that lay, flaccid and silken, across its eggshell surface, and ask him in a little-girl voice who his favorite dancer was. She would guide his bony hand to one rather expansive breast and, again throwing her voice up several octaves to sound no older than eight, ask: “You’ll always, always take care of me, won’t you, Pookey? I don’t know how I’ll ever cope all alone.” Occasionally, she would feel his pitiful endeavors to ascend begin in the crotch of his Harris Tweed, but she need only poke him in the ribs or in the neck for it to harmlessly deflate. It always felt like an accident, that poke, but it surely happened every time. Periodically, there were tears. Never from him, always from her. But they were the squint-eyed and waterless kind, like those shed by crocodiles. After she left, he often sat for long periods in a bemused catatonia, and then began asking for his lawyer. Something about his will and that lovely, lovely girl. So enthralling. Makes a man feel again. And he was happy, at this point, to feel anything at all, be it no more than the weight of her bottom on his buckling knees.
To see the girl in photographs a few years later, one initially expected that she was smart and fiery, that her internal architecture was complicated and intricate, that she possibly spoke Delphic predictions. Surely one would think that the sophistication of the spirit determined a person’s physical appearance. But she barely knew that L.A. was part of California. She confused giraffes with horses. Still, the directness of her gaze beneath those dark eyebrows and tumble of platinum hair, the way she seemed to look skeptically at the glowing center of your soul in her photographs, made it all forgivable. Certainly this woman has depth, if not intellect. She has edges, beautiful and sharp. Look! You can see them in the photos. But cameras promulgate falsehoods.
She found and overstepped the boundaries of her limitless potential as she outgrew her own physical compass. She was like Alice in Wonderland, tippling from bottles of magic liquid and growing to three times her ordinary dimension. But it was less that she became a celebrity giantess, pushing against the walls of her own fame, than the fact that she became a parody of feminine glamour. Her breasts ballooned to an unnatural size, her nail extensions shot out more than an inch beyond her fingers, and her body began to expand in every direction. She lost the ethereal charisma so unmistakable in her photos and became as leaden as an anvil. There was little trouser stirring capacity in this new incarnation. Sadly, she had begun to look like her own aunt, who, desperately depressed at age thirty-five, sat alone in her double-wide and regularly made quick work of Texas pail-sized containers of peanut butter ripple. And from the depth and breadth of her, (she was clearly well over 375, on the hoof) one would suspect that she made this part of a daily regimen.1
In truth, it was a gross dissatisfaction with how things had turned out that had the girl—really no longer a girl anymore—endlessly comatose and sprawled over the sofa cushions. The only motion evident was the transfer of food from hand to mouth and the infrequent fondling acknowledgement of Sugar Pie. Cartoons ran before her eyes and stimulated the muscles of her iris and pupil, but nothing else on her person was forced into exertion. From time to time, she even appeared to cease normal respiration. How limited it all was, how much like a tiny fish tank this life had become. She had swum around it endlessly, looking for more, but there was nothing, not even a little plastic castle to linger in. She had gobbled up all there was to have on the surface of her prison. And because of this, she occasionally threw herself against the glass, erratically waxing and waning like the moon. She became full and round one moment and nothing more than a thin, pale-looking sliver the next. What had looked so intensely wonderful and wide from the outside, was disappointingly narrow within. The dream of her girlhood had been achieved. And now, there was simply nothing left to hope for. Pass that box of Ding Dongs, Howard. I can’t reach them from here.
1. It had gone rather badly with her aunt’s first five marriages, and, looking for solace, she soon found that a pail a day kept the men away. Well, most of them at any rate. There were a few that still sniffed around her front door and attempted to ‘mark’ the cinder blocks elevating her mobile home, but these were the type that drank and slavered, and her aunt chased them off by waving her .22 around from a front window.
Savannah Schroll’s first book, a collection of short stories titled
Famous & The Anonymous: The Deep & Darkly Secret will be published
by Better Non Sequitur in August or so. To read excerpts and see
the accompanying illustrations,
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/svanatree.html]
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